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Medical marijuana grow operator's lawsuit targets Zeppelin Development, Judy Montero

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Dan Emmans, owner of Grass Roots Health and Wellness Center, says that Denver City Council's proposed changes to the zoning rules medical marijuana growhouses have little to do with pot and a lot to do with politics. On Tuesday night, councilmembers will decide whether to grandfather in growhouses set up in areas that were originally zoned for commercial use but changed when the city passed its new zoning code last year. And even if the growhouses are grandfathered in, roughly 52 grow sites would still have to face a public approval board every two years to remain in their current site. But Emmans thinks the measure really targets his enterprise.

On Thursday, we reported that Emmans had filed an intent to sue developer Mickey Zeppelin, current councilwoman Judy Montero and former councilwoman/now Zepplein consultant Susan Barnes-Gelt. Because Montero is a sitting public official, Emmans must give ninety days' warning before the suit can actually be filed -- but his attorney, Sean McAllister, has already sent a draft to the potential plaintiffs.

According to that draft, Emmans was in a small bidding war with Zeppelin back in July 2010 for a large, commercial warehouse in the slowly developing River North neighborhood, also known as RiNo. Zeppelin, who has not responded to calls or e-mails, has been a major developer in this industrial area; his twenty-acre TAXI project overlooks the South Platte River -- and the building Emmans wanted to lease.

Emmans got the lease on the property, which runs nearly $50,000 per month with an option to buy. He set up a grow for his shop there, and leased out additional space to other dispensaries.

The draft lawsuit charges that Zeppelin repeatedly contacted the building's owner to find out what Emmans was doing in the space, and tried to convince the owner to break the lease. When the owner refused, Emmans claims that Zeppelin publicly outed the location -- even though growhouse addresses are to be kept confidential under state law.

On October 17, 2010, Barnes-Gelt, who works as a consultant for Zeppelin Development and also writes a column in the Denver Post, wrote a piece for the Post that identified the location of the warehouse in a caption underneath a photo of the building. In that same article, Barnes-Gelt acknowledged the law that keeps grow locations private, calling that "deeply disturbing." (The online version does not contain the photo or the caption.)

Barnes-Gelt, who had not seen the intent to sue notice or the draft lawsuit by Friday evening, laughed off Emmans' accusations. At the time she wrote the piece, she says, the city attorney's office told her that police and public safety had to keep the locations secret, but nothing in the law protects a growhouse's whereabouts if someone finds its location simply through observation. "You would have to be blind to not know that is a growhouse," she says. "You can see the lights through the windows in the evenings. It's so obviously a grow; who wouldn't know that?"

The following month, Zeppelin was on 7News talking about his concern that growhouses could be damaging to the area; the reporter stood in front of the building in a live feed and identified it as a growhouse. Emmans says that inspectors with the city's building and fire departments have also come out numerous times, in each case after Zeppelin made complaints about the warehouse.

Because the location has been made public, Emmans claims that his tenants have told him they aren't going to renew his leases; he's had a difficult time finding interested growers to take their place. The notice of suit sent states that Emmans is asking for at least $1.5 million in damages because many of his subletters say they won't be won't be renewing their leases. Any more damages would be determined by a jury.

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Councilwoman Judy Montero.
The draft lawsuit also charges that because Councilwoman Judy Montero leases her office space in Zeppelin's TAXI building, she has a "financial relationship" with the developer and should remove herself from voting on an issue she helped draft that would require that most growhouses be reapproved every two years. (Montero was out Friday on a city furlough and has not returned calls or e-mails.)

As Barnes-Gelt sees it, the two-year rule is intended to protect what she calls a "fragile" area. Industrial properties in the neighborhood had steadily been converting to more mixed-used residential developments until the economic downturn, she notes; after that, stagnant development led to some warehouse owners renting out to growers. "I think if these guys were good neighbors, this would be a different story," she says. "But these armed growhouses that look like armed camps? They aren't good neighbors."

But Emmans feels the proposed change specifically targets him and his warehouse, and says there's no way he would pass a review now that his warehouse location has been made so public. The building has been mentioned at several city council committee meetings, with members openly discussing "the Brighton Boulevard property."

"I bet everything I have that in two years they get rid of me," Emmans says. "With everything that is going on, and everything [Zeppelin] is throwing at me, what reason would I have to think that I would get a fair shake? I haven't got one yet."

Read William Breathes's MMKL center reviews in Mile Highs and Lows.


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6 comments
Urban Lunatic303
Urban Lunatic303

feel free to come by TAXI to see 3 fully occupied buildings, cafe, fitness center, and 60+ creative and high tech businesses. That is a little different picture than the slum and illegal dump site that is being maintained at 31st and Brighton.

Show a little respect for your neighbors and the investment that has been made around you--or you will be out of biz in just a couple short years. Its that easy.

RiNoAdvocate
RiNoAdvocate

I live in the neighborhood and will take 10 clean well-maintained civilized banks, federal buildings, and pawn shops- with the armed guards and all- over the slum we all need to see at the location of this grow house. It is not about the armed guards - it is about the disrespect to the community- this site is a DUMP. If these guys showed ANY interest to be part of the RiNo community, these issues would not have occured.

Urbanlunatic303
Urbanlunatic303

here's the letter that went out to the building owner (from the Zeppelins). Sorry but this is not the big evil developer v. little guy that it is being made out to be by Westword. These are slumlord landowners and shady business guys that are dumping their blight on an emerging neighborhood at the expense of artist uses and creative and high tech businesses that could otherwise be occupying the buildings and surrounding site.

Curt (LaRossignol) I am not sure why you guys have such a hard time with a dissenting opinion that the MMJ industry should be regulated under these circumstances—we simply and honestly do not agree with your position. The current 2 year period was arrived at only after significant give and take among many people involved in this process—including those on your side. As we have previously pointed out and the majority council now recognizes, the 2 year period is not an automatic mechanism but merely creates a small degree of accountability during your lease term to maintain your property in a reasonable way. A few potential ideas for you to consider that would more than suffice to satisfy the neighborhood: • Clean up the hole in the ground—replace it with a community garden.• Get rid of the sprawling illegal dump on the river—Now!• Unboard the windows and include a prominent art element.• Add some significant landscape• Consider a sidewalk—or improved ability for pedestrians to pass Contrary to your paranoid view of things—we are not out to shut you down Curt. This is a new industry and we need some accountability to insure that the effects on the surrounding community do not outweigh any potential benefit. It is reckless in our minds without some form of a review period just to plunge into this unprecedented land use situation of using large swaths of urban real estate in the urban core for to cultivate marijuana. We have a substantial investment ($30 mil+ and 10+ years at this point) and think that you and your tenant should have to answer for your impact on the surrounding community along the way--more than 3 years after your lease term will have begun. Finally, is not enough to point out that there are junkyards in the area and therefore anything goes. The ordinance in question does not address all of the grandfathered uses—it only addresses MMJ issues and it is not reasonable to burden the surrounding uses with the current state of your property. In fact, the illegal dump and derelict state of thing re-enforces the need for a level of accountability. ...

Guest
Guest

armed guards means bad business neighbors? -- what about banks, federal buildings, pawn shops, gas stations, etc. ? many businesses use guards and weapons to protect their investment and employees.

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

Strong take, Urban Lunatic303. Thanks for sharing it.

Trip
Trip

Let me guess, you must own the BEAUTIFUL JUNK YARD or one of the many delapitated, graffiti covered buildings....or the empty eyesore called TAXI. Hmmm. Never seen an armed guard anywhere in RiNO, only industrial buildings. With neighbors like you and Zeppelin, its no wonder these guys don't want to be apart of the communuty.

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